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Sarah Tarr Gove, News Editor

Blackshear Mayor Kevin Grissom’s financial savvy and money handling capabilities were questioned last week in The Pierce County Press’s coverage of city budget issues. Did he deserve the supposed exposé? 

The short answer  — no.

Ironically, the very evidence supposedly brought to light last week and raised as a ‘red flag’ against him was sent anonymously to The Times exactly a year ago last week  — July 1, 2019  — most likely by the same individuals who provided it to Publisher Mittie Vaughan of The Press in a feeble attempt to explain their misgivings and extra scrutiny of the city’s FY21 budget.

After a thorough investigation of all the evidence available and interviews with relevant individuals, The Times deemed the tip un-newsworthy last year, but as all professional journalists who operate under the standards of journalistic integrity would do, I kept the file for further review should it be necessary.

Let me tell you why.

The Times deemed the accusations of financial impropriety against Grissom dating back to his pastorate at a church in St. Marcos Island nearly 12 years ago to be irrelevant for several reasons, but I’ll limit my explanation to the top three:

Number One  The Naples Daily News article published December 19, 2008 (not December 9, 2008 as Mittie Vaughan’s paper reports) in which a church member calls Grissom’s handling of the congregation’s finances into question is followed up two months later (February 12, 2009) by another article.

In February, the Naples Daily News reported an audit of the accounts Grissom had reportedly mishandled came back clean. Auditors told the congregation at Marco Community Church of God “in reviewing the records no improprieties have come to our attention.” Both articles are easily accessible via a Google search. 

Why didn’t those throwing stones last week provide Vaughan with copies of the February article? I’d surmise their only purpose in providing Vaughan with the first report and not the second was an attempt to deflect the community criticism they’ve received in recent weeks for initially voting no on the budget’s approval while refusing to explain their misgivings.

Better yet, why didn’t council members Shawn Godwin and Linda Gail Dennison present this article as evidence for their close scrutiny of the city’s budget at a public meeting? Other council members would surely have been interested in any evidence of ineptness where Grissom is concerned, as would any Blackshear resident with a vested interest in the wellbeing of their community.

Number Two  When presented with the evidence against him last year, Grissom was very forthcoming with The Times. He never attempted to hide or explain away the situation. Instead, the mayor provided additional details above and beyond what was reported in the Naples Daily News coverage from 2008-2009. Grissom’s accounting of events was corroborated during The Times’ continued investigation of the situation, including in a letter from a former deacon of the St. Marcos Island church Grissom pastored before accepting the pastorate at Blackshear Church of God.

Did Vaughan attempt to contact the same deacon who provided a statement to The Times last year or any other member of the Marco Community Church? Her paper’s coverage of the issue certainly does not quote anyone else familiar with the situation.

Number Three  Grissom took over as pastor of Blackshear Church of God three months after leaving the pastorate in St. Marcos. Anyone familiar with the inner workings of religious organizations would tell you there is no way Grissom’s licensing or ordination with the Church of God could have been revoked or suspended and then reinstated within that time frame for him to accept another assignment within the same organization. 

The article printed in Vaughan’s paper last week calling Grissom’s character into question smacks of “gotcha journalism”  — a practice I personally find detestable, but more importantly, a practice The Times is careful to guard against as we strive to provide this community with accurate, timely and relevant news. Your favorite hometown newspaper has been doing that for 151 years and counting.

I don’t find this attack on Grissom’s character to be accurate, timely or relevant, but the council members most likely responsible for tipping Vaughan could have and should have brought the report as evidence of potential wrongdoing to a public council meeting for discussion and investigation.

I agree wholeheartedly with Chamber of Commerce Director Angela Manders’ statements at previous council meetings and even addressed the issue in an editorial earlier this year  — all we expect from our elected officials is for them to be open and honest, explaining their actions to the constituents of this community. 

The primary issue is not whether or not we agree with the decisions they make every time, but rather that they conduct business in an ethical manner. If they have explanations for their actions let’s hear them. We just want to know why they take their stand and what motivates their voting record. 

In full disclosure to our readers, The Times gives all council members an opportunity to comment on every city-related issue we cover. We will continue to do so  — even when they hang up on us or decline to comment. If they provide comment, you’ll read about it in this paper.

Why? It’s the right thing to do. And, it’s in keeping with the standards of journalistic integrity all newspapers should operate by.

• Sarah Tarr Gove is news editor of The Blackshear Times. Email her at sgove@theblacksheartimes.com.